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Cosmic 'Booze' Created In Quantum Brewery

Unknown Lamer posted about a year ago | from the galaxy-might-have-a-problem dept.

Space 52

astroengine writes "The intense cold of interstellar space shouldn't be conducive to chemical reactions between methanol and hydroxyl radicals — two molecules that are known to exist in stellar nurseries and cold interstellar clouds — and yet the product of this reaction, methoxy radicals, are found in abundance throughout the universe. What is creating them? In a paper published in the journal Nature Chemistry (abstract), Dwayne Heard and colleagues from the University of Leeds think that interstellar alcohol is undergoing a destruction mechanism facilitated by a weird quantum effect known as tunneling. On encountering hydroxyl radicals, methanol molecules should be repelled by the electrostatic force. But at very low temperatures, when both chemicals are mixed in a cold gaseous state, quantum tunneling becomes extremely efficient at allowing chemical reactions to occur. The researchers write: 'at temperatures relevant to the interstellar medium, almost every collision between methanol and OH (hydroxyl) would result in a successful reaction to form CH3O (methoxy).' What's more, they find that the reaction rate is 50 times higher in the cold interstellar environment than it is at room temperature. 'If our results continue to show a similar increase in the reaction rate at very cold temperatures, then scientists have been severely underestimating the rates of formation and destruction of complex molecules, such as alcohols, in space,' said Heard."

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Good news everyone! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44162837)

"Hickups!"

Cold chemistry ? (4, Insightful)

Taco Cowboy (5327) | about a year ago | (#44162859)

This finding could led to the development of a new phase in chemistry - very low temperature chemistry

We are led to believe that chemicals get to mix better when temperatures are applied, but from what I read from TFA, that quantum tunneling process, if we can harness it, could save us a lot of energy in the many laboratories / factories all around the world

Re:Cold chemistry ? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44162897)

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Re:Cold chemistry ? (1)

cold fjord (826450) | about a year ago | (#44162977)

It isn't just the potential energy savings. It may offer ways to build compounds that aren't feasible to create today since part or all of it may decompose at higher temperatures. I think that is quite interesting. Of course the energy savings could be important in some specialized applications such as synthesis of compounds on space missions, undersea, a few other things I can think of, etc. Depending on the range of reaction temperatures, there may be some very curious possible interactions between chemistry and physics to play with.

A very interesting result indeed.

Re:Cold chemistry ? (4, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44163059)

This finding could led to the development of a new phase in chemistry - very low temperature chemistry

We are led to believe that chemicals get to mix better when temperatures are applied, but from what I read from TFA, that quantum tunneling process, if we can harness it, could save us a lot of energy in the many laboratories / factories all around the world

I suspect that the degree to which heat-pumping to achieve very, very, low temperatures is a pain in the ass(and quite energy intensive) compared to conventional resistive or combustion heating will limit the economy of using it as a replacement for existing high-temperature processes; but there are probably a lot of interesting products that won't form in useful amounts at modest temperature; but won't survive high temperatures. Those could be very promising candidates...

Re:Cold chemistry ? (4, Insightful)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44163605)

I suspect that the degree to which heat-pumping to achieve very, very, low temperatures is a pain in the ass(and quite energy intensive) compared to conventional resistive or combustion heating will limit the economy of using it as a replacement for existing high-temperature processes;

Right up until we start doing it in orbit. Put a mirror in front of a thing and paint it black...

Re: Cold chemistry ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44164447)

Don't you mean paint it white?
Otherwise, it will absorb heat instead of reflect it.

Re: Cold chemistry ? (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#44164965)

Don't you mean paint it white?
Otherwise, it will absorb heat instead of reflect it.

Are you trolling, or did you fail to read the part about the mirror before replying?

Re: Cold chemistry ? (1)

swillden (191260) | about a year ago | (#44174931)

Don't you mean paint it white? Otherwise, it will absorb heat instead of reflect it.

No, black. As well as absorbing energy better, black surfaces also emit energy better. That's actually why the SR-71 Blackbird is black, because the black paint helps it to cool faster.

The GP mentioned putting a mirror in front of it to block incoming radiant energy, and the black paint would help it radiate.

Re:Cold chemistry ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44164927)

I suspect that the degree to which heat-pumping to achieve very, very, low temperatures is a pain in the ass(and quite energy intensive) compared to conventional resistive or combustion heating will limit the economy

That costs will probably have little to do with the limits in industry as opposed to the incredibly slow reaction rates, some of which may be too slow to even notice in a small lab scale experiment, let alone be used for producing industrial quantities. Industrial chemistry isn't just about minimizing the cost of inputs, but a large part of it is getting a reasonable reaction rate, and enough of a yield. Reactions that are very slow and amount to 99.999% of your reagents this sitting there are not going to be very popular.

And there is quite a bit of research into low temperature chemistry, mostly dealing with chemicals that are not stable or possible to make at normal temperatures, as opposed to finding new ways to make stuff we have a bunch of methods for already.

Re:Cold chemistry ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44166435)

What about doing these reactions in space? Orbiting chemical factories, especially if the raw materials were harvested from outside our gravity well...

Re:Cold chemistry ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44166881)

Quantum tunneling is not "weird" - it is very common, and occurs at all temperatures, not just at low temperatures. Also, are many reactions which run more slowly with increased temperatures. Old news.

Re:Cold chemistry ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44167515)

Quantum tunneling is not "weird" - it is very common, and occurs at all temperatures, not just at low temperatures.

If the potential barrier you are interested in is passable by classical particles because thermal energy is larger than the barrier, then you won't get any tunneling over through that barrier (just as evanescent waves disappear and you get real waves instead for the EM analogy). Even in more moderate temperatures where the average thermal energy is not enough to get over the barrier, but there is an energetic tail, there will be a point where the tunneling rate does not compete with the classical processes and it quickly becomes insignificant. So depending on the context, there will be temperatures where the tunneling no longer matters or beyond which it essentially doesn't even occur.

Rather look at my brew in the light with Maxwell (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44162841)

Much more refreshing qubit effect in the cosmos

headache... (4, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | about a year ago | (#44162857)

Taking quantum tunneling into account for reactions? pChem just became an even bigger headache then it already was....

Alcohol in space? No news! (2)

aglider (2435074) | about a year ago | (#44162871)

Wasn't that already brought by Americans (burbon) and Russians (vodaka) back in the space race age?

Re:Alcohol in space? No news! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44166837)

Alcohol is forbidden by Allah. Death to the infidel galaxies!

Re:Alcohol in space? No news! (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | about a year ago | (#44168791)

This is methanol. You're allowed to drink it if you want.

More complex molecules? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44162873)

So might even RNA/DNA or other kinds of self-reproducing molecules be created that way?
If true, that might have big implications for the Panspermia hypothesis.

Re:More complex molecules? (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year ago | (#44162947)

So might even RNA/DNA or other kinds of self-reproducing molecules be created that way?
If true, that might have big implications for the Panspermia hypothesis.

Amino acids are found in deep space. IIRC Wikipedia has a list of all the molecules that have been found.

Re:More complex molecules? (5, Informative)

abies (607076) | about a year ago | (#44163461)

http://www.kurzweilai.net/dna-and-amino-acid-precursor-molecules-discovered-in-interstellar-space [kurzweilai.net]

To be exact, 'precusor' molecules were found so far. They have like half of complexity of what we are talking about, which makes it quite probable that amino acids are out there.

But there is a far way from single particle of adenine to DNA chain. (a lot, lot further than from single atoms flying in space to group of 7or so atoms in adenine). And then there is a mystery of DNA/RNA replicating with help of cellular structures which themselves are encoded in DNA...

It is a bit like throwing a CD with cd-ripper program on top of pile of pure silicon wafers, hoping that somehow they will turn into PC with CD drive, read the program and start copying the CD around.

Re:More complex molecules? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44163801)

Nah. You're getting too complicated.

God is a lush, that's all. Makes sense.

Yep. (1)

loonwings (1519397) | about a year ago | (#44162889)

That's whatever you're talking about for ya.

Space fuel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44162943)

The next question, could this be used as a fuel for long term space travel? Or even just harvested?

Re:Space fuel? (2)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44163077)

The next question, could this be used as a fuel for long term space travel? Or even just harvested?

Fortunately for anybody planning on travelling at nontrivial fractions of c, less fortunately for anybody planning on gathering fuel, there just isn't much 'there' there [wikipedia.org] . Some denser regions; but plenty of space with less than an atom per cubic centimeter.

Booze? (4, Insightful)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year ago | (#44162953)

I'm pretty sure you don't want to use methanol for booze.

Re:Booze? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44162993)

Hey, man, five parsecs toward Alpha Centurai when you've run out of spirits and all you have left is mixers, you'll take what you can get.

Re:Booze? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44163095)

./ editors have a special liver that can process it.

Re:Booze? (4, Informative)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44163147)

./ editors have a special liver that can process it.

If memory serves, the trick to avoiding ill effects with methanol is to not process it. Methanol itself isn't that nasty, with initial effects approximately equivalent to the same amount of ethanol(so you can drink yourself to death; but it takes some work); but you metabolize it into delicious formic acid, which proceeds to do you no good at all. If you can avoid metabolizing it, you'll excrete it reasonably quickly without substantial further harm.

Fomepizole is the fancy, expensive, science-tastic alcohol dehydrogenase competitive inhibitor; Ethanol is the more common and well loved one.

Re:Booze? (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44163803)

So, what'll it be? For $1000 we can give you an IV or we can keep you drunk on top shelf vodka for a fraction of that.

Re:Booze? (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44163947)

I don't know if Fomepizole is superior on some respects to ethanol(lower toxicity, say, allowing you to saturate the patient more heavily); but that's my impression of why it isn't more popular. Now, as any number of contaminated-rotgut-itis demonstrate, just mixing some ethanol with your methanol isn't necessarily good enough to save you; but it apparently can be done correctly.

Re:Booze? (1)

sjames (1099) | about a year ago | (#44164299)

I think the problem with the rotgut is that the ethanol clears your system before the methanol is gone.

To the best of my armchair physician knowledge (I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV) the onl;y advantage is that it doesn't make you drunk.

Re:Booze? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44165207)

the onl;y advantage is that it doesn't make you drunk.

If you are drinking to get drunk, you'll not consider that as an advantage.

Re:Booze? (2)

TheCarp (96830) | about a year ago | (#44166145)

> I think the problem with the rotgut is that the ethanol clears your system before the methanol is gone.

I don't think there is that much methanol in rotgut.

I did some looking into distilling a while back. Fermented liquid contains a number of chemicals, including entirely other alcohols, mostly in small enough quantities to not be worth talking about. However, when distilling, these tend to be concentrated. The main difference between "rot gut" and the good stuff is in how well controlled that process is in its ability to control how much of that other stuff is kept or discarded.

From wikipedia entry on Whisky:

The flavouring of whisky is partially determined by the presence of congeners and fusel oils. Fusel oils are higher alcohols than ethanol, are mildly toxic, and have a strong, disagreeable smell and taste. An excess of fusel oils in whisky is considered a defect.

Note only an excess is considered a defect.

Methanol however was, in the past, added to illegal alcohols to make them more potent; but the point is, it was added intentionally. Unlike lead and glycol contamination which was the result of using old radiators from homes or cars as the condenser for the still.

Re:Booze? (1)

Black Parrot (19622) | about a year ago | (#44166575)

I don't know if Fomepizole is superior on some respects to ethanol(lower toxicity, say, allowing you to saturate the patient more heavily); but that's my impression of why it isn't more popular.

I can think of another reason something called "foam pizzle" wouldn't be a popular drink.

Re:Booze? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#44163315)

./ editors have a special liver that can process it.

no they don't.. they don't just care about being blind since they don't read the submissions anyways.

Re:Booze? (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | about a year ago | (#44163209)

Which explains the quotes around it.

Cheap way to get drunk? (1)

einyen (2035998) | about a year ago | (#44168889)

About 20 years ago my high school chemistry teacher claimed that if you showed up at the emergency room and said you had been drinking methanol, they would actually give you a shot of ethanol ("normal" alcohol) as a treatment. Apparantly the body breaks down ethanol before methanol allowing the methanol to pass through without causing damage.

Strongbad knew this years ago... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44162985)

"The ONEitude is directly proportional to the Colditude of the ONE."
Reference: http://www.hrwiki.org/wiki/property_of_ones [hrwiki.org]

This one's on me.... (1)

andrewa (18630) | about a year ago | (#44162997)

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster anyone?

What if... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44162999)

The universe is just the puke of a drunk alien that has a size completely off our scales of measure?

ooh.. i get it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44163119)

"booze" ??? good one.

In space, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44163565)

no one can hear your barf.

lots of Bender... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44163709)

Lots of Bender asteroids. Much like putting a million monkeys on typewriters and hoping for Shakespeare, we put a million Benders in space and hope for god.

Woah, a working ZPE application ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44163779)

Isn't this the first practical application of the zero point energy field ?

I'm not drunk! (1)

TheSpoom (715771) | about a year ago | (#44163893)

I'm exploring the galaxy.

News for Luddites? (1)

khchung (462899) | about a year ago | (#44164549)

weird quantum effect known as tunneling

Is this news for nerds, or news for Luddites? If you think tunneling is "weird" instead of just "fact of life", you don't belong here in /.

Re:News for Luddites? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44165515)

Plenty of physicists I know consider various effects in quantum mechanics to be weird, some of them even work particle physics and condensed matter research. It hasn't prevented them from succeeding at a job requiring heavy use of quantum mechanics, and isn't mutually exclusive with view said effects as being matter of fact. If anything, such a view helps contribute to their ability relate their work to those without intuition of how such things work and to teach such subjects, even at the formal level.

Re:News for Luddites? (1)

Lithdren (605362) | about a year ago | (#44166415)

Pretty sure something can be considered 'weird' and still a 'fact of life'.

It's weird because its not something you would expect to be true, on a scale we normally work with such a thing is impossible.

Seems like the only one who doesn't belong here in slashdot, is you.

And on the 7th day.. (1)

haapi (16700) | about a year ago | (#44165537)

..God rested. And, obviously wanted a cold one, just like those made in His image.
Q.E.D. the universe is laced with booze.

Any other questions Intelligent Design can answer for you?
Thnxbyeseeya.

A lot of free fuel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44166579)

Just sayin'...

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